I have been thinking a lot lately about the soon to be held Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR). And moments ago my eyes noted an ad in a magazine I was flipping through. The ad was for an upcoming “World Congress on Refractive Error”. For a brief moment I thought this ad was in fact referring to the PWR.
The conference was actually about eye care and vision correction, but its title seemed most relevant to the PWR. You see, a simple dictionary definition of refraction is “deflection from a straight path”. And that seems to very nicely summarise what the PWR is all about.
It really is dedicated to ‘refractive error’. It is about leading people into error, and distorting their vision as to what religious truth really is. Biblical Christianity is clearly about truth, but the PWR is all about the opposite of truth. It is about pluralism, syncretism, relativism and eclecticism.
Highlighting the importance of truth in the Christian worldview is easily done. The Bible everywhere talks about the necessity of truth. Indeed, in the New Testament alone, the word ‘truth’ appears some 152 times. Truth is absolutely vital in the Christian view of things.
But we live in an age which scoffs at truth and claims that objective truth does not exist. In some ways, this is nothing new. We all recall the words of Pilate when he was interrogating Jesus: “What is truth?” But of special interest here is what Jesus said just prior to this. In the previous verse (John 18:37) Jesus made this amazing claim: “For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
He of course reinforced this theme elsewhere. For example, he could also make this remarkable claim about himself: “I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). As Philip Ryken comments, “Jesus Christ is the true Savior, who was and is the true Word of God, incarnate. Elsewhere John describes Jesus as the true light (John 1:9), the true bread (John 6:32), and the true vine (John 15:1). He calls Jesus ‘the faithful and true witness’ (Rev. 3:14). He says that Jesus came from the Father ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). He says, ‘we know that the Son of God has come … so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life’ (1 John 5:20).”
And the entire Christian life is defined in terms of truth. Ryken again offers a nice summary here: “The Bible says many things about standing with Jesus on the side of truth. It tells us to worship in truth (John 4:24), rejoice in truth (1 Cor. 13:6), obey the truth (1 Pet. 1:22), be established in the truth (2 Pet. 1:12), walk in the truth (e.g., Eph. 5:8-9; 2 John 4), do the truth (1 John 3:18), and speak the truth in our hearts (Ps. 15:2). Truth is not a theory for the believer in Christ; it is a way of life.”
But truth is the very thing being downplayed at the PWR. Instead we have a religious smorgasbord, where delegates can simply pick and choose their own preferred spirituality, without any worries about the question of truth. It is a perfect environment for modern Westerners who live in a constant state of relativism and subjectivism.
Consider this from the PWR website, dealing with FAQs: “Will religions be ranked, scored, or evaluated? No. The purpose is to promote understanding and cooperation, not to judge.” That’s for sure. ‘Just leave your critical faculties at home’ is what we are being told here.
We are being asked not to make any judgments, assessments, or critical evaluations. Now that might be fine when trying to weigh up what pair of pants to put on in the morning, but it is not at all helpful when dealing with ultimate religious truth claims.
And of course all religions do make truth claims, even if the claim is that there are no truths! The various religious truth claims are often quite at odds with those of other religions. And given that they deal with the really important issues of life – such as, What is reality? What is truth? Who is God? How do we get right with God? – we very much do have to judge and make careful evaluations.
The Bible certainly tells us to do this. We are told to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). We are admonished to “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16). We are also told, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5-6).
We are warned about spiritual deception: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1,2). As Paul says, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way” (2 Thess. 2:3).
Indeed, Paul informs us in 1 Cor. 2:15 that “the spiritual man makes judgments about all things”. This is the very opposite of what is expected of the delegates at the PWR. The suspension of judgment in this area is a recipe for disaster. One might as well exhort mushroom lovers to just grab and eat any that they find in the ground, and not worry about making critical judgments concerning them. The consequences of this suspension of judgment could be deadly.
But if there is such a thing as the one true God, and if there are indeed deceiving spirits and diabolical opponents of this God, then we should expect to see this manifested at such conferences. This relinquishment of spiritual discernment is just what we should expect in a world which is at odds with God and his purposes, and is in fact hostile to them.
“But you are being so exclusive” I hear the critics charge. But life is all about exclusion, discrimination and narrow boundaries. When I choose one woman to be my wife, I am excluding all the others. When I choose one football team to follow, I am excluding all the others. When I choose one therapy to deal with an illness, I am excluding many others.
And it is not just Christians who are insisting on exclusiveness. As Richard Ramsay notes, “Although Christianity may be accused of being exclusive, all religions are exclusive. Buddhism rejects the Vedas and the caste system of Hinduism. Islam excludes other religions and elevates the Quran above other sacred writings. When other religions reject Jesus as the only Lord and Savior, they are excluding true Christianity.”
Ironically, the PWR website claims it is not aiming for religious unity, and is quite happy for people to reaffirm their own religious traditions. But as just noted, to affirm your own religious worldview automatically means that you must exclude or renounce elements of other religious worldviews. It cannot be otherwise.
To choose vanilla ice cream is to automatically reject chocolate ice cream. To choose Islam is to reject the central claims of Christianity. Thus the danger of religious syncretism and pluralism being promoted at the PWR: it speaks much of tolerance and inclusion, but it can only do so at the expense of truth.
While some religions may downplay truth, Christianity is above all things a religion based on truth. To claim to be a follower of Jesus is to decide to exclude all rivals to that faith. To accept Jesus Christ as the only saviour is to exclude all other claimants. To affirm the uniqueness of Christ is to reject claims of religious syncretism.
As Jesus so very clearly stated, “He who is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23).